Imagine you’ve been offered a hard-earned promotion at work, your kids are doing terrific in school and spring break is just around the corner. You’ve made special plans to go to Disneyland and the house sitter is on her way. Your mind is in a tizzy, but you’ve never been happier. You want to savour this moment and reflect on how far you’ve come.
Then you get a call from your doctor about the x-ray he took of you yesterday. He doesn’t like the massive image that he sees. You book a CT scan and an emergency appointment with a newly referred thoracic surgeon—and then, a few days later, it’s time to get your results.
The news is just as you feared: this is the beginning of a cancer growth. Your perfect world is suddenly crashing down around you.
You may be confused and overwhelmed by the many treatment options that exist. Beyond surgery—if the tumor is operable—you may find that traditional therapies like chemotherapy and radiation can be effective. Perhaps you prefer alternative options like holistic medicine, exercise and nutrition, prayer or counselling. Or perhaps you qualify for the method known as targeted therapy treatment (TTT).
Should you qualify for TTTꟷa treatment option that takes several different forms depending on the cancerꟷyour chances may improve. This treatment has a higher patient survival rate than most therapies and can provide a higher quality of life, depending on the patient’s diagnosis. Only 10-15% of North Americans qualify for this particular type of treatment.
Not all TTT will provide a full cure, but its purpose is to slow and control the cancer growth. Unlike chemotherapy, TTT divides and (ideally) kills cancer cells while having minimal effect on your natural cells. TTT can aptly be referred to as “precision medicine,” as it “uses information about a person’s genes and proteins to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease.”
Evolution of targeted therapy treatment
Standard chemotherapy was originally discovered in World War I chemical warfare. Its evolution began within autopsies of victims who had been exposed to a nitrogen mustard. In these autopsies, suppression and division of certain somatic cells was discovered and interpreted as a breakthrough for cancer.
Since the early 1900s, chemotherapy has vastly improved, and has opened the doors to cancer surgery, antibiotics and further cancer research involving optional drugs like those used in TTT. Many TTT resources have been created and tested in immunotherapy trials in the last 80 years.
In these trialsꟷsome quite recentꟷvarious TTT drugs have been approved as successful by the FDA. Some methods became available on the market as early as 2004. These methods include Gefitnib and Erlotnib, “signal transduction inhibitors” intended to treat non-small cell lung cancer.
Where TTT is now
As per the National Cancer Institute, here is a list of targeted therapies commonly used today:
- Hormone therapies (used for breast and prostate)
- Signal transduction inhibitors (used for lungs)
- Apoptosis inducers (can force the death of cancer cells)
- Angiogenesis inhibitors (used for kidneys)
- Monoclonal antibodies (used to deliver toxins to cancer cells)
- More information on how each of these therapies works can be found here.
Depending on your particular cancer and a variety of health factors, TTT can be used by itself or in combination with other therapies, both traditional and new. The combination that is right for you is something your oncologist can best determine.
Although it is less toxic than chemotherapy, it is important to be aware that TTT does have side effects. These include:
- Skin problems
- High blood pressure
- Gastrointestinal perforation
These effects should be monitored, but are usually manageable.
Where TTT is headed in the future
TTT can be used in a variety of amazing ways to combat cancer. This type of therapy can not only stop formation of blood vessels in tumors, but also cause cancer cell death, deliver cell-killing substances to cancer cells and even help the immune system destroy cancer cells. The basis of these discoveries is a process referred to as “genomic profiling,” as explained by Dr. Kenneth C. Anderson of Dana Farber Cancer Institute, who goes on to explain how this method will help TTT research progress.
“First, genomic profiling will continue to identify the mutated pathways that allow for the growth and survival of tumor cells,” says Anderson. “This knowledge can help researchers develop new targeted therapies. Second, immune therapies including monoclonal antibodies, immunomodulatory drugs, vaccines, checkpoint inhibitors, and cellular therapies, especially in combination, will help the body learn how to fight off myeloma on its own and offer long-term disease-free survival. Finally, use of combination targeted and immune therapies earlier in the disease course, prior to the development of more severe symptoms, will ultimately prevent the development of active disease and achieve cure.”
The development of new targeted therapies holds great promise. Vaccines, antibodies and many cellular therapies will help fight off cancer, especially if used in combination. Immune therapies combined with targeted therapies are most favourable, particularly in the early stages of cancer. All these methods will be attainable and improved within 10 years’ time.
Throughout history, research has helped us achieve great milestones in cancer treatment. Research has provided us with more clinical direction, as well as more attainable and better performing drugs then ever before. With specific priorities in place and the use of immunotherapy and targeted therapy, we can learn not only how to live with cancer but how to actually beat it.